It was indeed a "Darty" when the Mississippi State University and University of Mississippi volleyball teams met this week at the Newell-Grissom Building for a two-game series, and the Bulldogs and Head Coach Julie Darty Dennis did not disappoint.
In the first set of the first day of games, Ole Miss would maintain a close game with the Bulldogs, keeping it tight up until halfway through the first set, when the score sat at 16-14, MSU's lead. A kill by redshirt junior Logan Brown, a Bulldog outside hitter, coupled with a block from Jessica Kemp, a graduate student who plays both right side hitter and middle blocker, would put MSU in a more comfortable position at 18-15, and the Bulldogs would ride that momentum to a 25-20 first set win.
In the second set, the visitors would break out to an early 3-0 lead before any fans could blink. Consistency would not be the name of the game, however, as Ole Miss' solid play would be followed by some extremely suboptimal miscues and poor returns. MSU libero Lilly Gunter, a freshman, would have a great set, sending everything straight back to Ole Miss. MSU would capitalize and pull out to a comfortable 21-13 lead. A picturesque Bulldog block would allow MSU to win the second set 25-15.
Ole Miss would continue their tradition of hot starts and force MSU into a timeout with a 5-1 lead. Coach Dennis would rally the troops, however, and MSU would come back with a 6-5 lead and force Ole Miss into a timeout. The Bulldogs rode a Logan Brown serve spree and some excellent return-work to a 21-15 lead, and sophomore outside hitter Callie Minshew brought out the brooms on the first game of the series with a pair of aces to seal the game at 25-17 and secure the sweep for MSU on the day.
Libero Lilly Gunter had herself a game during the first day's action, totalling 19 digs per MSU stats, and when asked about her play, Coach Dennis made it no secret that Gunter's future as a Bulldog is bright.
"It really is incredible to see what the impact is of a great libero," Darty Dennis said. "Lilly being a freshman, I get goosebumps when I talk about her because she has made such big strides and jumps already in her game. I cannot wait to see what she is capable of in her whole career here."
On Friday, a much different Ole Miss team would walk into Newell-Grissom. The opponents looked poised and energized from the get-go in the first set, jumping out to a 4-0 lead early on. MSU was not going to back down, though, answering with a few key blocks and an ace by setter Margaret Dean, a grad student. These efforts paired with a poor Ole Miss serve put MSU up 15-10. Ole Miss rallied, though, and would come back to put the score at 21-19, Ole Miss' lead, forcing MSU into a timeout. Ole Miss would not be denied, though, and they went on to take the first set 25-22.
Moving into the second set, Ole Miss kept up the aggression from the attackers. This would not be helped by some poor serves from MSU. The score sat at 15-10, University of Mississippi's lead before Coach Dennis would call a timeout to light a fire under her team. Whatever she said to the squad, it hit home, as the Bulldogs would fight back to knot the score up at 20 a piece. An over-zealous Ole Miss return would sail out of bounds and seal the deal on the second set, 25-23, Bulldogs' win.
Behind some excellent serves from libero Lilly Gunter, MSU jumped out to a 5-3 lead in the third set. Graduate Jessica Kemp would carry MSU with some veteran points and put the score at 16-13, Bulldogs' lead. Ole Miss would claw back to tie the score up 23-23, and MSU would take a timeout. MSU would go on to take set three 26-24.
The fourth set of the day would have all the markings of going down to the wire. Neither team could pull away, and scoring kept coming in bounds. A kill by junior middle blocker and right side hitter Gabby Waden tied up the game at 23-23. MSU would then go on to seal the set and the game with a 26-24 victory, only giving up one set to their opponents over the entire series.
MSU gained some much needed momentum with these wins, as they look to take on a talented Florida team next weekend on Feb. 19 and 20 back in Newell-Grissom.